Along a long straight stretch of the trail I noticed a squirrel run across the trail in the distance. Of course a squirrel crossing the trail is not anything particularly remarkable in these neck of the woods, so I did not pay much attention to it. I kept on walking. A few minutes later, the squirrel crossed the trail in the opposite direction (I assumed it was the same squirrel). I kept on walking getting closer to the spot where it had crossed,… when it ran across the trail again. I was almost upon it when it,… crossed again. Once I arrived at the location along the trail where the squirrel had been crossing it the reason for its behavior became abundantly clear. I a bush, right of the trail there was a single bird feeder that had had its roof knocked off, leaving it wide open for anyone to help themselves to the sunflower seeds. As I was watching the odd chickadee and nuthatch swoop in for a seed the squirrel came back. It quickly climbed the bush and without hesitating dove right into the feeder to grab a mouthful of sunflowers. Like a smooth and stealthy burglar it was gone it a flash, crossing the trail and disappearing into the forest, presumably to its secret lair to stay its loot. Two minutes later it came back, scampering through the forest, crossing the trail, climbing up to the bird feeder and back in it went.Its industriousness was quite impressive. It had clearly found the mother lode of the day and was hellbent on hoarding as much as possible before any competitor would discover the gold mine.
The river valley is a window into Edmonton’s geological the past. The North Saskatchewan River originates 1,800 metres above sea level in the Columbia Icefield. It flows across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River and eventually into the Hudson Bay. In Edmonton It runs from the southwest to the northeast through the city and is fed by numerous creeks throughout the city, such as Mill Creek and Whitemud Creek. This creates numerous ravines, many of which have been incorporated into the urban parkland. Along sections of the river bank one can see the relentless erosion caused by the fast flowing river. If one knows about geology, I can imagine that the cross sections of the river bank must be alike an open book telling the geological story of the past.
There often seems to be a trade off between success in finding animals to photograph and the ease of photography. If you want to take pictures of animals, including birds, early morning is better, but at the expense of light. If you want lots of bright light (which makes photography easier), then you are limited to mid day or early afternoon, but this comes at the expense of seeing birds and other animals. Today was a good example of this tradeoff. It was a sunny and beautiful winter’s day with springlike conditions. I went for a walk along the North Saskatchewan River by Fort Edmonton. The light was perfect for taking pictures, sunny and clear…, but there were not birds to be seen. One could hear the odd chickadee or nuthatch, but I had no luck in actually spotting any birds or even squirrels. So what does one do? Well, you turn your attention to the less mobile denizens of the forest. like the colorful lichens.
I heard a rumor on the CBC radio morning show that there were ice pancakes in the North Saskatchewan River. Well, there is nothing else to do other than hurrying down to the river to check it out for myself. With the current frigid temperatures it will likely not be long before the river freezes over completely. Indeed, the river was full of ice pancakes drifting rapidly downstream. Under normal conditions, i.e. in the absence of ice pancakes, the flow of the water in river appears deceptively slow. The speed, however, at which the ice floes were moving downstream was quite remarkable and not expected. Ice pancakes (or pancake ice) is a form of ice that consists of round pieces of ice with ranging in diameter from 30 centimeters (12 in) to 3 meters (9.8 ft). The pancakes in the North Saskatchewan river were on the smaller size with most of them being around 1 meter in diameter. With more snow in the forecast, I guess this will be the proverbial icing on the cake.
Now that the leaves are gone one can see them. Large conspicuous stick nests high up in the tree crowns all along the trails down by the North Saskatchewan river. When the trees had leaves the nests were, despite their size, almost impossible to spot. Now, with the leaves gone, one would be hard pressed to miss the nests. The nests are empty as their tenants have moved on on their southward migrations. Who build and occupied these nests? Judging from the size it was likely a larger species, perhaps a corvid such as crows, ravens or jays. Now that I know where the nests are located, I can keep an eye on them next spring to see who moves in (which does not necessarily have to be the same inhabitants as this year).
The North Saskatchewan river is know for its brown and murky water. The color is due naturally occurring sediments that are washed into the river, particularly during he spring melt and during periods of rain. People sometimes assume that the water is dirty, which is not entirely true. Run off from the storm outfalls contributes a large number of pollutants to the rive. In addition to this, people are generally discouraged from consuming fish from the river due to high levels of naturally occurring mercury. On sunny days and if the light is right the river can, however, become a chameleon and change colour. On a late afternoon, as the sun was getting low, I managed to take this picture of the pale blue surface of the river with the reflections of the Walterdale bridge. No brown color on this afternoon.
It was a sunny late afternoon without a cloud in the sky. A gentle cold breeze made it feel colder than what it really was. It was silent down at the North Saskatchewan River except the rustle from the Quaking Aspen leafs. It was easy to spot the Aspen stand as these were the only trees with leaves left on them. As a matter of fact, while all the leaves were golden yellow on color it looked like none of them had been shed yet. Various species of Aspen are the most widely and commonly occurring three species in the northern part of North America.
From a distance The North Saskatchewan river looks like a quaint meandering water serpent. Once you get next to it, however, you quickly realize that the flow is fast and unrelenting. As a result, the river only freezes over completely when the temperature drops extremely low for long periods of time. As I went for walk along the river edge today I came across patches of thin ice along the shore. This first ice of the year is a sure sign of things to come.
On the banks of the North Saskatchewan River there are a large number of outfalls. An outfall is a drainage facility that conveys stormwater into a natural receiving water body (ex. creek, river, etc…). There city has a map online of all the outfall locations and, well, there are quite a few of them. The other day, as I was walking along the southern shore of the North Saskatchewan River I spotted Outfall 23 across the river. I noticed that the water coming out of the culvert was foaming and getting stuck along the shore as it drifted down stream. Foamy water in itself does not necessarily mean that the water is contaminated (see my previous post number 131 on foam lines). This time, however, it was clear that the foam originated from the outfall culvert. Outfalls convey stormwater that has been collect from runoff from impervious surfaces (e.g., roofs and roads) typically from entire neighbourhoods. This means that pollutants from roadways, lawns and roofs are essentially concentrated and discharged at a single point making the outfall a point source for pollution. The water quality in the North Saskatchewan River changes throughout the seasons with high runoff seasons such as spring resulting in more silty and polluted water. A 1994 study found that discharge of stormwater during summer rain storms does affect water quality in the North Saskatchewan River, including increasing levels of heavy metals and fecal coliform bacteria. The same study also found that the composition of invertebrate animals are dramatically affected downstream from Edmonton due to the change in water chemistry as it flows through the city. One of the effects is an increase in the nutrient levels in the river (think lawn fertilizers) which on one hand can augment the food base for the invertebrates but it can also wreck havoc with the levels of disolved oxygen, similarly to lake suffering from eutrophication (nutrient enrichment).
Instead of a nature walk we went on a bike ride today in the Edmonton River Valley. Although no birding was part of the plan I did pack my binoculars and camera in the paniers, just in case we would bump into anything interesting. Sure enough, as we were approaching Quesnell Bridge I spotted these large white birds in the water along the opposite shore. There were not too many options as to what it could be. Five Americans White Pelicans were frolicking in the murky waters of the river. As we were crossing the bridge we got a closer look and I managed to take a few pictures from my high vantage point. This is the first time I have seen pelicans in the river and I guess, for a water bird, the river is probably as good of a place to hang out as any other body of water. Right along the shore where the pelicans were there were some people fishing. Perhaps the fishermen and the pelicans chosen the same location because it is a good fishing spot.